Review: Richard Carpenter is Close to You – Underbelly George Square, Edinburgh

Standard

First published in The Times, Tuesday August 15 2017

Four Stars

There are plenty of reverential tributes to legendary musicians and bands on the fringe. The original act or artist is either retired or no longer with us, so audiences flock to see the next best thing instead.

 

This homage to one half of one of the biggest-selling groups of all time stands out from its rivals in that, while affectionate, it has a sharp, caustic edge that rather qualifies the earnestness of the music. Moreover, due to copyright issues, there is a limit to the number of bona fide Carpenters recordings that can be used in the show, meaning that the performer, Matthew Floyd Jones, has been forced to create a Greatest Hits album’s worth of pastiches.

As might be expected from the keyboard playing half of the acclaimed musical comedy act, Frisky and Mannish, Floyd Jones’s compositions are delightfully on the money, capturing the smooth production and honey harmonies of the brother-sister duo, wriggling out of copyright infringement through clever key changes and lyrical sleight-of-hand. In the opening medley he confirms his virtuosity, switching effortlessly between saxophone, clarinet and keyboard.

Richard Carpenter is Close to You_Matthew Floyd Jones_12_Steve Ullathorne

Pic: Steve Ullathorne

The show’s genius stroke lies in Floyd Jones’s characterisation of Carpenter as a nervy, frustrated has-been, who has never made it out from behind the shadow of his much-loved, late sister, but who still harbours artistic ambitions of his own. The modest confines of the Underbelly’s Wee Coo venue double as the Purgatorium, a tiny venue where the musician now plies his trade in between thankless personal appearances dominated by the ghost of Karen.

Richard Carpenter is Close to You_Matthew Floyd Jones_5_Steve Ullathorne

Pic: Steve Ullathorne

Elements of this portrayal are undeniably unflattering, but Floyd Jones, who nails Richard’s lisping soft-spoken voice and slightly manic smile, also invests the great man with a certain little-boy-lost appeal. The premise may sound a little cruel in outline but it comes off because it has the ring of hard truth.

 

Box office: 03333 444167, to August 27

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